From Erosion to Regeneration: Our Vision for Saving Agricultural Soils

The Urgent Need for Soil Regeneration

95% of our food production depends on healthy arable soil. Thus, as the world’s population expands and food demand surges, our topsoils are essential for safeguarding food security. However, we are losing them at an alarming rate. Current intensive farming practices rely on heavy chemical inputs and mechanical disturbances, such as tilling, that disrupt the delicate structure of topsoil by breaking up the roots and biological net (soil net) that hold the soil together. This leads to a soil degradation rate that is 100 times faster than its natural counterpart.

As a result, we have already lost productivity from agricultural soil that covers twice the land area of the US and continues to grow. According to a report by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, one-third of the world’s soil is already degraded due to erosion, compaction, and nutrient depletion [1]. This loss of soil, combined with growing food demand, often leads to the clearing of natural areas for agriculture. This results in biodiversity loss, reduced water availability, and increased greenhouse gas emissions. To reverse these trends and enable soil regeneration, we must first prevent soil loss. We need to address erosion.

The Limitations of Current Erosion Prevention Solutions

Current erosion prevention solutions have significant limitations that hinder widespread adoption and scalability. Ground cover solutions, such as mulch, have been implemented in some cases to prevent erosion. However, their adoption has plateaued due to their prohibitive costs. For example, researchers estimate that the average mulch application costs $350 per acre per year [2]. Moreover, even if these costs could be lowered, ground cover solutions often lead to reduced crop yields and the introduction of invasive species.

Solutions that avoid further soil damage, such as no-tillage methods, have gained popularity in recent years. By avoiding tilling, these methods aim to preserve the existing soil structure and allow the soil net to recover over time. However, no-till methods often require increased use of pesticides and fertilizers to control weeds and pests. For example, a study by Purdue University found that no-till corn fields required more herbicide applications than conventionally tilled fields [3]. Additionally, it can take several years for the soil net to recover fully, and a single till pass can undo years of benefits.

Substituting the soil net with a synthetic polymer has also been proposed as a solution to erosion. These polymers can be applied to the soil to mimic the functions of natural components that hold it together. However, it is essential to note that these synthetic polymers also have significant disadvantages. For example, researchers found that common soil-binding polymers can be toxic to aquatic life at low concentrations [4]. They can break down into carcinogenic subunits such as acrylamide which has been classified as a probable human carcinogen [5], limiting their potential use. Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be this way.

Our Solution for Soil Erosion

At present, erosion control solutions fall short, and our vision is pioneering the agricultural soil restoration revolution. We aim to mimic the intricate natural networks within the soil sustainably, emulating nature's safety nets that firmly hold the soil together, thus averting erosion and quickening its restoration. We are confident that we can achieve our objective by creating a new wave of bio-inspired or bio-derived polymers whose properties mimic a healthy soil environment. This innovative approach not only addresses the pressing issue of soil erosion but also fosters soil restoration, seamlessly aligning with contemporary agricultural practices to ensure the sustainable preservation of agricultural productivity on a large scale. To bring this vision to fruition, we are actively growing our team.

How you can get involved

We’re recruiting two ambitious co-founders to work alongside me (Dr. Rubi Simhayov) to incorporate a venture based on this technology, to restore agricultural soil to their maximum potential in the shortest amount of time. If you have experience in creating, designing, or customizing polymers (biopolymers is a plus) with a strong background in polymer science or material science and desire to build a company, we’d like to hear from you - please click here. If you have experience in soil or other farm amendments, and strong commercial drive and technical expertise across the agricultural sector, we’d like to hear from you as well- please click here.